restricted access 6. The Composer

From: David Baker

Indiana University Press colophon
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173 David N. Baker’s estimated catalog of over two thousand instrumental , vocal, and choral works includes everything from lead-sheet combo jazz arrangements and compositions to big band charts and extended works, from solo and chamber pieces to full-fledged jazz and classical concertos. There are also film and ballet scores as well as works for full symphony orchestra in both jazz and contemporary classical styles. The only genre he hasn’t yet assayed seems to be opera. Styles range from straight-ahead modern jazz (mostly bebop) to Third Stream and contemporary classical composition that is only distantly related to jazz. Baker’s reputation was initially established in jazz (as a DownBeat poll-winning recipient of their New Star Award in 1962, culminating in that magazine’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” Dav id Ward -S teinm an 6 The Composer 174 David Ward-Steinman in 1987; and confirmed as a National Endowment for the Arts American JazzMasterin2000,andbytheJohnF.KennedyCenterforthePerformingArtsinWashington ,D.C.,asaLivingJazzLegendin2007).Hiswork as an educator was honored by his induction into the national DownBeat Hall of Fame in Jazz Education, 1994, and by the fact that he is currently Distinguished Professor of Music and chair of the jazz studies departmentatIndianaUniversity . Baker’ssignificance asacomposerof serious concert music will be the subject of this chapter. Atpresent,recordingsofhisconcertcompositionsoutweighhisjazz recordings,whichissurprisinggiventhatmostpeopleinthemusicworld associate him primarily with jazz. As Brent Wallarab, co-leader of the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra that released a CD of Baker originals, puts it, “Much of his music has been recorded, and it is constantly being performed globally, but that music is almost exclusively orchestral or chamber music. We wanted to get the message out that David’s big band music is very special and deserves attention.”1 The album in question , Basically Baker, was listed in the January 2010 issue of DownBeat Magazine, the leading jazz periodical, as being among the “Top 20 Jazz CDs of the 2000s.”2 The focus here will be on Baker’s concert jazz, Third Stream, and contemporary classical compositions. My original idea was to deal with each of these categories separately, but analysis showed that there is rarely a clear-cut division among them; a continuum of techniques and stylistic approaches often blurs any nominal division into categories. Baker uses what he needs as the situation demands, and he does so with internal stylistic consistency and conviction – drawing upon his vast experience as a performer, improviser, big band leader, arranger, composer , and pedagogue. In fact, he points out, “If I am doing a concerto, obviously I learn whatever instrument it is that I’m going to write for. . . . I make a point of living with that instrument before I start to write.”3 Baker’s compositions will be discussed selectively by genre or medium ,andchronologicallywithineachcategory.Workschosenare,with few exceptions, published and recorded. I have examined all of Baker’s works that were made available to me in these categories, and have chosen the ones I considered most representative or significant for analysis and description, given the space available. (A complete assessment would require several books.) The categories are The Composer 175 1.  Piano solos 2.  Smaller chamber works (two or three performers) 3.  Larger chamber works (four or more performers) 4.  Chamber music with jazz rhythm section 5.  Song cycles 6.  Choral music 7.  Orchestral works 8. Concertos The term “Third Stream,” as used in this chapter, requires some explanation. Composer Gunther Schuller coined the term in 1957 to describe, in his own words, a musical style which, through improvisation or written composition or both, synthesizes the essential characteristics and techniques of contemporary Western art music and various types of ethnic music. It was originally used for a style that had existed for some years and that attempted to fuse basic elements of jazz and Western art music, these two mainstreams joining to make a “third stream.” Since then . . . the term has been broadened . . . to incorporate fusions with other Afro-American music.4 Baker’s“techniquesofcontemporaryWesternartmusic”includethe use of quartal chords and harmony, quartal-secondal harmony, mixedinterval chords, quintal chords, polychords, bitonality, mixed modality, split chords, clusters, cluster harmony, atonal harmony, and even some twelve-tone passages. At the heart of his music is the full vocabulary of jazzthathedrawsonatwill,especiallybebopandlaterstyles,butalsoincluding rock, gospel, Latin rhythms, and especially the blues. He readily employs blues scales, bebop scales, added-note harmony, parallel block chords,extendedtertianharmony(uptothefifteenth,ordoubleoctave), major-minor fusion chords, polyrhythms, boogie-woogie basses, calland -response antiphonal exchanges, and of course improvisation. Baker summarizes his...


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Subject Headings

  • Baker, David, 1931-.
  • Composers -- United States -- Biography. -- Composers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Jazz musicians -- United States -- Biography. -- Jazz musicians -- United States -- Biography.
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